Airline industry

FAA investigates Southwest plane's near miss with Pacific Ocean, dropping to within 400ft

June 16, 2024
FAA investigates Southwest plane's near miss with Pacific Ocean, dropping to within 400ft
  • News comes as regulators investigate separate incident after Boeing 737 Max 8 plane did a ‘Dutch roll’ in May

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into reports that during a flight, a Southwest Airlines aircraft fell "within 400 feet" of the Pacific Ocean.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 fell off the coast of Hawaii at a speed of 4,000 feet per minute, according to a letter given to Southwest pilots that Bloomberg was able to secure. It approached the ocean by only a few hundred feet before ascending to safety.

The incident was reported after investigators revealed that a Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Southwest suffered major damage after performing a "Dutch roll" on a journey from Phoenix to Oakland in May.

The dive off the coast of Hawaii took place on April 11 in unfavourable weather. When the jet experienced the abrupt drop, it was travelling from Honolulu to Lihue, according to Bloomberg. According to data from a flight tracking website, the report stated that the plane descended to a height of approximately 400 feet above the ocean.

No one was injured. “Nothing is more important to Southwest than Safety,” the airline said in a statement provided to media outlets. Through our robust Safety Management System, the event was addressed appropriately as we always strive for continuous improvement.”

The FAA told CNN that it learned of the incident immediately and opened an investigation. The plane eventually re-routed to Honolulu.

In the separate incident, on Friday Bloomberg reported that a Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane’s structure after it went into a “Dutch roll” during a Southwest Airlines flight in May.

The incident happened as the jet cruised at 34,000 ft from Arizona to California. Associated Press reported that the plane landed safely, but said Southwest did not notify the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the roll or damage to the jetliner until 7 June.

“Following the event, SWA performed maintenance on the airplane and discovered damage to structural components,” the NTSB said.

A dutch roll occurs when the plane’s tail slides from side to side, and the plane rocks in a way that causes the wings to roll up and down.

A report by the FAA said that “substantial” damage was discovered to a unit that controls backup power to the plane’s rudder. It is unclear what triggered the incident, which was the latest to involve a Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

In January the FAA ordered nearly 200 Boeing 737 Max 9 to stop flying after a chunk of fuselage blew out of the plane mid-flight. The planes were allowed to return to the air after undergoing an expansive inspection and maintenance process.

Last year Southwest agreed to pay a record-setting $140m civil penalty after a December 2022 holiday meltdown left 2 million passengers stranded at airports around the US. The airline canceled 8,000 flights over a four-day period, following a winter storm.

The US Department of Transportation found that Southwest violated consumer protection laws by failing to provide adequate customer service assistance “via its call center to hundreds of thousands of customers”, as well as failing to provide prompt flight status notifications to more than 1 million passengers and prompt refunds to thousands.